Trip report - Maui and Big Island
- Bob Dobalina Apr 27, 2013 05:12 AM
Thought I would try to keep a running trip report log of chow from our trip.
Here's day 1:
We're on Maui and after getting settled in Lahaina, we drove to Makena Big Beach. Drove through Kihei town and grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich to go from the Home Maid Cafe - seemed surprised that we asked for no meat, just onions and peppers, with the egg and cheese on a wheat roll. It was fine - as others have noted it is a greasy spoon kind of place - nothing special but an ok bite before the beach.
On the road as you near the beach are a few stands and food trucks - one was shrimp tacos and BBQ, fresh coconuts...we went with the Jaws fish taco truck on the left side, just before the first state park parking lot. 2 red snapper tacos for 7, 3 for 9.50 - we split the order of three - a few chunks of grilled fish (not deep-fried), with rice, cabbage, crema and some orangey sauce - def. hit the spot. Decent shaved ice (lemon) and really sweet lemonade. Sat on the rocks by the hot, dusty road ... It all kind of worked.
For dinner, we hit up the fourth Friday Maui street party in Kihei (in the same shopping area as the Home Maid). Lots of food trucks and vendors -we started with the Hawaiian Moons Natural Foods tent, with the veggie plate - kale salad, quinoa salad, roasted tofu and eggplant. The kale was shredded and dressed very lightly, the quinoa had slivers of almonds (which were appreciated by my non-quinoa loving wife (although who really loves quinoa?)), and the tofu and egg came with a teriyaki glaze/sauce. This was not bad, although we ended up mixing the tofu with everything else, because of equal parts of it was the best part and the blandness of the other two. All in all, sort of typical "organic" vegan, but it was fine. The tofu was very good, extra firm, and had a lot of flavor. The eggplant was well roasted and a little crispy in parts.
We tried the Auntie's tropical-flavored mini-donuts - fried dough balls squirted with clarified butter (I think) and sprinkled with fruit-flavored powders. They were yummy in a way, the mango powdered ones we had were pretty good, but too greasy and not hot greasy, which is bad. Oh the missed opportunity here! The donuts were previously fried and really needed to be hot out of the deep fryer...then no need for the squirt bottle of butter and the hot donuts would have been worlds better.
Next the Kula Country Farm truck for an Ono sandwich - deep fried fish, good crust, tomato, onion, lettuce, sauce on a decent kaiser roll - this was our favorite bite. We have not had Ono before but it was very very firm fish - could not tell if it was the result of overlooking or not. It tasted very good, regardless. This was $9.
Finally two bulgoki tacos from the Gogi Korean taco truck. Two for 6, good amount of flavorful Korean bbqed pork with some chopped lettuce and possibly some sort of sauce - good bites.
Excellent ginger lemonade from the waffle tent. Big cup for $4.
The fish sandwich was our fave, tacos a close second - really enjoyed the people watching, looked to be a majority local crowd.
On to day two!
Breakfast at the Cafe Cafe in Lahaina - good iced coffee, granola with yogurt and fresh fruit was tasty although the fruit was only a banana (which was a good banana) - yogurt was thick, Greek style. Also an everything bagel "local style" with ham, cheese, tomato and onion.
Lunch was at the Paia Fish Market - my DW had the seafood salad - garden salad with choice of fish, not the mayo-based type. Good green salad with nice pieces of grilled mahi. I had the ahi plate, also nice piece of fish, grilled, with fries and decent slaw. This place features fresh fish, but so many people got fried fish. This is a shame, because battering and deep-frying just anonymizes the fish, in my opinion. From what I could see on adjacent plates, the fried looks just ordinary. Get the grilled for value at this place.
Had a gelato at the Ono Gelato across the street - had the peanut butter crunch (with a different name that I forget) - this blew away the gelato I had at another place in Lahaina. Very interesting flavors - really like the sea mist on tasting, but it was hard and the server crushed the cone trying to scoop it in, so made a quick change. I think it had a tea base, with lime....really good. My DW had a goat cheese based gelato which really worked - not goaty at all, just super creamy.
Dinner was at Star Noodle in Lahaina.
We enjoy Top Chef and Chef Sheldon's appearance certainly put this place on the map for us. There have been a few negative comments about the place on this board, but our experience was entirely positive. First, we were told it would be an hour wait, half-hour for take-out. So we put our name in and went outside to wait and consider take-out, but we were seated in less than 5 minutes - a very pleasant surprise!
Sat at the bar and Victor the bartender kind of went through his spiel, pushing the pad Thai and the Brussels sprouts with lots of bacon, which looked good, but he was clearly pushing stuff that he (or someone) thought the tourists would like. He's probably right in that regard - it is stuff that is pretty familiar and safe - our neighbors at the bar had these plates, and they did look very appetizing. But we ordered the Pohole salad, the Karaage chicken and the Singapore noodles.
Singapore noodles were a lovely pile of glassy, bean thread noodles, with good bites of chicken (a little overdone), diced pork, and perfectly cooked shrimp. The versions I have had before prominently used curry, but it seemed pretty subtle in this version. It was a generous serving and was overall very good.
The Karaage chicken was more minimalist - a large, juicy, perfectly fried piece of white meat, with accompaniments of ponzu sauce for dipping, greens, sweet onions, pickled ginger and sliced jalapeños. My DW picked this and loved it - just an interesting marriage of flavors - a light dish too.
We also had the Pohole salad of Hana Fiddle Head Fern, Maui Onion, Ebi, Kombu - I liked this dish, again very minimalist - really just these ingredients on the plate, the flavor of the ferns really taking center stage with little to no dressing - very earthy. My DW tired of the ferns, but I thought they were a good counterpoint to the unctuousness of the noodles. The salad should have been dressed with something just a bit, however. I applaud the use of such an unusual local ingredient - they were reminiscent of the New England fiddle heads, but tasting more like the sea, which the dried shrimp and the kelp were to enhance, so I get it. It just needed a little something.
I also had the cucumber cocktail which was very good.
The price tag was also remarkably reasonable - about 50. We were very happy with our meal, and would have gone back to explore more of the menu. If it was in our hometown of Boston, we would probably go here often.
day 3 coming soon...
Somehow we missed out on Ululani - we did hit up Local Boys - actually like the lemon topping at the Jaws food truck better than LB, but it may have been due to my poor flavor choices and/or that I may not know what a good shaved ice is like.
I do not remember seeing the Outrigger Pizza at the party, but I may have subconsciously avoided it because of my strong Boston / New England pizza bias. ;)
Day 3 started with an early wake-up to see the sunrise at Haleakela crater. Just before the turn into the park, we stopped at the coffee truck near the entrance. He has a sign that says something like, "Relax, you're early" which we were but not by much. Coffees and a surprisingly decent coffee cake muffin helped to fend off the predawn chill.
After lingering at the top, we drove through Wakamao, stopping for a quick takeout bite at the general store. An egg and cheese burrito from under the heat lamp and a cheese Danish was ok, cheap, served its purpose.
Went to Iao Valley for a hike - stopped at the Whole Foods in Kahului, good gelatos.
Dinner we made our way to Sansei in Kihei - started with fine edamame, a Hawaiian sashimi trio of ahi, kampachi and opakapaka - really liked the last two, well-cut pieces of fish, not overly large but properly sized. Next was the Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll - interesting idea with the deep frying. This was followed by a couple of rolls and the lobster/blue crab ravioli in truffle butter sauce - was surprised that the flavor of the filling came through the rich creamy sauce. This was our DC's choice and was glad he added it - made for a good bite (with one ravioli for the three of us.). I hoisted some tamago sushi on my DCs and they did not like it as I did, finding the slight sweetness of the egg to be not their favorite. Finished with a couple more pieces of the kampachi and opakapaka - our DC finished with a miso soup which he seemed to like.
I should mention that we sat at the sushi bar and the older chef took our order - If I went back, I would be curious if he would do an omakase and see what he would provide. The price tag was a tad high, but overall, we left feeling very satisfied.
Day 4 started with a snorkel cruise to Lanai and around Maui. While we waited for the passengers to assemble, we grabbed a latte and cappuccino from Bad Ass Coffee on Front Street. The milk in the cappuccino was badly overheated - this is not unusual that people just blast away with the steam and call it capp, the foam immediately collapses and it just turned into a latte. Very business-like service too. The attitude reminded me of home.
Had fresh fruit and a veggie platter during the cruise - all fine. They were right about how good ranch dressing tastes when you've been drinking salt water for a couple of hours. Went with Hawaii Ocean Rafting.
For lunch, we stopped at Okazuya & Deli Honokowai - this is a pretty straightforward plate lunch kind of place I guess - we shared the grilled mahi plate, with grilled zucchini and Mac salad. We got four decent pieces of mahi, simply grilled. A lot of reviews on Y@*# either loved or hated the lemon caper sauce. People of Y@*#, why do you want to cover up beautiful local fish with crappy sauces? Just stop it! Agree that the Mac salad was bland, quickly remedied by a little salt and pepper - no biggie. I guess the price was a little much, but have to be honest that we felt the fish to be as good as the fish we had at Paia Fish Market a couple of days before. (Or it could have been the heatstroke.)
After more time on the beach, played a little poke roulette and got a couple of scoops from the Safeway near Kanaapali - we did not strike out - it was cheap and surprisingly decent.
A day with too much sun - we called it an early night.
Day 5, our last on Maui, started with a need for a little catchup, having bailed on dinner the night before.
Made our way to the Gazebo near Napili for its famous breakfast. Really a pretty small place - tremendous location by the sea. After a decent wait in line, which is common, luckily had a seat right by the edge - just lovely. We tried the combo pancakes and a half order of the fried rice. The combo is pineapple banana and Mac nuts - was not overwhelmed with the amount or quality of these items, and they put on a healthy scoop of whipped cream - it's a good trick to make people think they are getting great food. The coconut syrup was interesting, a little too sweet for me, avoid the standard "maple" - the pancakes themselves were about a half an inch thick and very fluffy. I forget the price point exactly, but I think you're better off getting them plain. That all said, we took the leftovers. The fried rice at a half serving was more than we could handle. The rice was studded with lots of chopped ham, some bacon, a bit of cabbage and green onions - the scrambled egg on top was flat, bland, seemed like an afterthought. The rice itself, like the pancakes, was excellent - perfectly cooked grains. So I got the impression that someone back there knew what they were doing around a kitchen, but the tourist demands for piling more crap on the food really ended up detracting from high quality basic breakfast chow. Of course, we were guilty of this demand too, but if I were to go back, I would eschew all the add-ons and keep it simple. Service was pleasant, diner waitress style ladies. Coffee was refilled early and often. The more I think about it, it really is a basic diner by the sea. Don't be tempted by the "Hawaiian" stuff and stick with the basics and I honestly think it will be overall better tasting.
After a surf lesson, we stopped for a late lunch at Bamboo Fresh at the Shops at 505 (Front Street), a couple of blocks south of the Banyan tree park.
Bamboo Fresh deserves special mention as serving the single best item we had on Maui.
Had the pork wrap, loaded with fresh, all locally sourced organic veggies, garlic hummus that knocked my socks off, in a fresh spinach wrap. It took time - this is not a place to rush. But the freshness of the ingredients was just amazing. Absolutely would eat here daily if was in the neighborhood. The lady making the smoothies was equally as great - first, be aware that these are by default unsweetened, so if you prefer sweet, choose an appropriate fruit, say strawberry or pineapple. I started out with lime and coconut and she offered me a taste, and we adjusted, added a little mango and finally a little honey, which rounded out what I was really looking for in terms of sugar level. The lady could not have been more patient and accommodating as we figured out what I really wanted, not realizing she did not use a sugary base to the smoothie. In the end, super fresh and just so cooling.
Let me put it this way - on an island where I felt everything was rightly or wrongly oriented to tourist tastes (with a lot of genuine successes), Bamboo Fresh is the place that stands out as serving the most real food.
The yang to this yin, however, was our dinner at Lahaina Coolers. I'll start by saying that it was probably my fault for ordering the special. But I will get to that in a minute -
When a menu has the following, I know I am in trouble:
Herb Marinated Catch
Fresh fish in a herb marinade grilled and served over roasted red pepper risotto with a balsamic reduction
Chicken Breast with sauteed onions and bell peppers with a spicy thai peanut sauce topped with peanuts, sesame seeds, and carrots
Calamari Steak Strips
Calamari steak strips battered and fried. Served with Spicy Furikake Coctail Sauce
Black Salt Seared Scallops
Over pumpkin seed pesto with yuzu cilantro oil
Who is the madman that made this menu? Wtf is a calamari steak? I think the ones on our menu were Parmesan crusted calamari steak strips. What exactly is appetizing about a red pepper risotto (sweet) with a balsamic reduction (sweeter)? Or pumpkin pesto with yuzu? Evil jungle, indeed.
So I felt cornered, trapped. I knew that most folks said the pupus were the way to go, but I just had no confidence that they sounded in any way very good and I flinched - went with the special (I know, my bad) of shrimp, fish and scallop over linguine in a scampi sauce. I was thinking a scampi sauce would be safe - butter, lemon, garlic, pasta and hopefully fish that won't kill me.
When a pasta dish arrives with an unplanned side of soup, you know you are going to be disappointed. This pasta dish was literally swimming in a pool of bland ... broth? It was not a sauce. Draining this swamp spoonful by spoonful allowed for eating, the pasta was fine, but the fish was hopelessly overcooked. Added salt until I could taste some sort of garlic flavor, although it was totally washed out by the watery puddle. A dish that would make for good reality tv.
My wife fared a little better with a ceasar salad with shrimp that were not so overcooked as to be gripped with the rigors. The dressing on the salad, however, could have stopped a bus with the amount of garlic.
Rum drinks were cheap at $7.50, which really sums up what this place is about.
So one clunker on an otherwise good five days on Maui. Now we are off to the Big Island, where we have a full kitchen so will be reporting a little less.
re: Bob Dobalina
'Wtf is a calamari steak?'
Common on the west coast..from the body of squid, tenderized and when prepared right, its delicious and similar to abalone.
The Chase in Santa Barbara is one of the best you'll find done in a picatta version.
Glad you enjoyed the Gazebo..hidden gem that is a great spot for breakfast and catching waves while you wait for a table.
Is this your first time to the islands?
Polished off the leftovers from the Gazebo breakfast the day before. The pancake held up remarkably well in the fridge.
After landing in Kona, headed south to our accommodations and stopped at Da Poke Shack for an early lunch. It opens at 10. Shared a plate, which came with two scoops of rice, two scoops of poke and two sides. Went with the wet Hawaiian poke and the avocado poke, scoop of brown and scoop of white, sides of seaweed salad and kimchi cucumber. Everything just great - I was not a huge fan of the avocado poke - thought the creaminess of the fruit took away from the fish, but my wife liked it plenty. I preferred the Hawaiian, which had a little vinegary bite to it. Both featured super fresh ahi, which was being hand-cut as we walked in. Seaweed salad was pretty standard, but the cucumber in the kimchi was crisp, fresh - highly recommend this side. Each scoop of rice was sprinkled with dried kelp - a nice touch. Couple of picnic tables out front in the parking lot, with umbrellas. Super super casual - strictly takeout. Went back in and got a roadie of a half pound more. This place was mentioned to me by a couple of folks who have been to Kona and it did not disappoint.
Dinner was a simple sautéed Ono steak at home from the local supermarket in the upcountry above Captain Cook. Can't beat local fish...